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Ana Lyons, PhD

Postdoctoral Fellow

As an NSF PRFB fellow, I am deeply passionate about developing tardigrades as an emerging model organism for systems-level neuroscience, behavior, and sensory biology. Like C. elegans, tardigrades have simple nervous systems consisting of only a few hundred neurons and have optically transparent bodies, allowing for live-imaging using neuronal marker proteins such as GCaMP. Tardigrades are among the smallest animals known to science equipped with legs and simple eyespots, allowing us to dissect the neural underpinnings of limbed-locomotion and vision. Because tardigrades can also withstand a range of environmental extremes, they offer potential to study neuronal repair and resilience to clinically relevant conditions such as hypoxia, radiation, and low temperature. 

As a postdoc, I am (1) developing resources and improved protocols to deliver transgenic cargo into tardigrades—to allow for the pan-neuronal expression of GCaMP, to study live neuronal dynamics. Additionally, (2) we are developing improved pipelines for live-imaging and cell-segmentation of freely-behaving tardigrades. (3) As a third goal, I am developing methods to utilizing live neuronal dyes and HCR in situ probes to better map the nervous system of the model tardigrade species H. exemplaris. As a final interest, we are (4) developing behavioral assays to study various forms of -taxis and learning in tardigrades. I aspire to share protocols and resources freely with the broader scientific community, to help tardigrades succeed as a model organism. 

I began my life-long obsession with tardigrades as a high school student, and I received my initial mentoring by Dr. Diane Nelson. Earlier in my career, I conducted a year-long research fellowship with Dr. Ralph Schill on tardigrade freeze tolerance, and I continued my exploration of this topic in my PhD dissertation “Mechanisms of cold tolerance in tardigrades (Hypsibius exemplaris)” (advised by Caroline Williams, UC Berkeley). During my PhD, I conducted fieldwork at McMurdo Station, Antarctica, and I worked as a visiting scholar in Ido Braslavsky’s lab (HUJI-Rehovot) to (1) help develop live microscopy methods to study tardigrade behavior at sub zero-temperatures and (2) explore putative cold tolerance proteins. Prior to my PhD, I worked as a 7th grade public school science teacher, and I continue to enjoy K12 outreach and mentoring undergraduates and new trainees in lab. Outside of lab, I volunteer as a math instructor at Mount Tamalpais College (San Quentin), practice zen meditation, and enjoy spending time in nature.

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